Monday, November 28, 2011

Calling the ECB absurd is not out of line

Daniel Drezner complains on his blog that James Surowiecki at the New Yorker is oversimplifying the euro crisis. In particular, Drezner takes exception to Surowiekci's claim that "the problem is not that the E.C.B. can’t act but that it won’t. The obstacles are ideological and, you might say, psychological." Drezner, putting on his hat as a political scientists, responds that "in labeling the problem as one of ‘ideology’ or ‘psychology,’ Surowiecki is explicitly arguing that it's just so absurd that the correct policy is not being pursued."

Although I am both a European specialist who is fully aware of the complexity of the euro crisis and a fellow political scientist, I am not all sympathetic to Drezner's argument. When governments are confronted with a problem that requires public policy to resolve, those governments are faced with different sets of interconnected issues. The first set are the policy issues that arise when you try to find alternative policies that will resolve the problem. The second set are the political issues that arise when actors try to choose between the alternatives and implement the chosen policy. Finding a successful solution to a problem requires overcoming the challenges presented from these different sources.

Surowiecki's frustration with Europe, which mirrors my own, stems from the realization that there are no significant policy issues related to the resolution of euro crisis. There is only one possible short-term policy solution — the ECB acting as lender of last resort — and both theory and experience predict it will work. Europe's failure to implement this solution is entirely the result of politics. Whether it is institutions, interests, or ideology that prevent Europe from acting, it is the politics not the policy that is to blame. It is not out of line to call this situation absurd because the failure by the ECB to act is foolish. It may be rational to the ECB, but a rational decision can still be absurd. And calling the ECB foolish may not help Europe, but it sure feels good if you are as frustrated as Surowiecki and myself.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taskforce agrees economic governance reforms | European Voice

Sequence is a highly underrated element of politics. The tentative agreement to bolster economic governance in the EU demonstrates this in spades:
There is an agreement that, in a system where fiscal responsibility remains largely under the
responsibility of national authorities, there is a need for a credible enforcement mechanism at the
EU level,” Van Rompuy said after the meeting.

He said that sanctions against member states with high deficit or debt levels “would be introduced at an earlier stage, be more progressive and rely on a wider spectrum of enforcement measures” than under the EU's existing rules for fiscal responsibility, which essentially failed in the run-up to the debt crisis.

Van Rompuy said that governments had agreed that available sanctions should include suspension of EU funds, and that the necessary steps to make this sanction available should be taken “as soon as possible”. He did not clarify, however, which funds would be included in this. The step nevertheless marks a defeat for Spain, Austria, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia, which had argued vehemently against suspending funding, on the grounds that it would further damage a country's weak country's economic performance.
Cutting off EU funding in the middle of an economic crisis is a horrible idea, but if the threat to do so is credible enough states might actually follow the rules. By following the rules, states will be better off economically and there will be no need to cut off funding. For the states bailing out their neighbors, this sequence looks good. For the states being bailed out, this sequence looks bad.

Friday, August 6, 2010

China's aircraft-killing missile is a matter of perspective

For realists, international relations is defined by the constant struggle for power between international actors. For them, the news that China may be near to perfecting an aircraft-carrier-killing missile might be troublesome. According to the AP:
Nothing projects U.S. global air and sea power more vividly than supercarriers. Bristling with fighter jets that can reach deep into even landlocked trouble zones, America's virtually invincible carrier fleet has long enforced its dominance of the high seas.
China may soon put an end to that.
U.S. naval planners are scrambling to deal with what analysts say is a game-changing weapon being developed by China — an unprecedented carrier-killing missile called the Dong Feng 21D that could be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier at a distance of more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles).
Analysts say final testing of the missile could come as soon as the end of this year, though questions remain about how fast China will be able to perfect its accuracy to the level needed to threaten a moving carrier at sea.
If China were to develop a missile capable of sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier at sea, it would dramatically alter the balance of power in the world. For balance-of-power realists, this development would signal the need for a possible realignment of U.S. alliances in Asia. For power transition realists, this is a tipping point that makes conflict between the U.S. and China much more likely. Yet, even if we assume the worst case scenario and China perfects this technology by the end of the year, I wonder if it really means anything.

Liberals will point out China is so dependent on the U.S. economically that it would have no real reason to ever use this capability. China can sink our carriers now, theoretically, with its nuclear arsenal, but no one seems to worried about it. Constructivists, on the other hand, might point to the relative obscurity of this article as evidence that while bastions of realism, like the military, are concerned about a rising China, the U.S. and China enjoy a relationship that is based on rivalry, not aggression. As long as that identity holds, conflict remains unlikely. It also means that the mere threat of a change in the relative balance-of-power might not be something to get so worked up about.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Google Earth and Complex Interdependence

One of the more difficult concepts to explain to students is the notion of complex interdependence, or the transformation of international relations through economic and political interdependence. Facilitated by globalization, or the widening, deepening, and accelerating of connections among societies, IR theorists like Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye claim complex interdependence accounts for the decline of military force as a policy tool and the increase in economic interdependence. It also means a gradual reduction in the capacity of states to control events.

In an article in the Washington Monthly entitled "The Agnostic Cartographer,"John Gravois provides a fascinating example of complex interdependence, Google Earth:

That new user-generated system of production, married to the technology of searchable “virtual globes” like Google Earth, has given rise to what people have begun calling “neogeography.” In the colonial era, the mapmaker’s imperative was to tame the foreign wilderness with names and boundaries—to discipline a profusion of facts and claims into a narrow and authoritative set of data. Now the profusion of facts and claims is a feature, not a bug. With the ability to zoom in on visual fields of higher and higher resolution, a digital map can contain more and more information—various local names for the same landmark, personal annotations, a picture of someone’s dog in a field. “The modern era was an era of the expectation that every feature should have a single name, and a top-down authority would determine that,” says Goodchild. “I think we’re moving past that with digital technology.” With policies that often favor ambiguity, Google maintains centralized control over the most official features on its maps—national borders, bodies of water, and the like—while in the “community layer” of map information, users have an open canvas. Geography has been democratized.

Powerful states once determined the names of geographic features. Today, even powerful states are forced to ask Google to change how it has chosen to label certain features or to remove the names given to things by its users if they disagree with the geopolitical ramifications.

Friday, September 7, 2007

When Copyright is Copywrong

Margot Wallström, a Vice President of the European Commission, posted an amusing story about copyright on her blog:
"I had an eventful last weekend. Friday night I saw an impressive performance of “West Side Story” in Berlare together with the Foreign Minister of Belgium and around 2000 other spectators. Every two years there is a festival in Berlare located by Belgium’s one and only natural lake Donkmeer (although a Swede would probably hesitate to call it that…) and a musical performance mixing professional dancers and singers with amateurs.

The producers originally intended to have Flemish and Moroccan gangs as a contemporary twist on this classic story about mistrust between communities. It would have been very meaningful here in Belgium but the copyright holders apparently would not let them so it remained Americans and Puerto Ricans."
Sometimes copyright is so stupid.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

How to Read a News Article for International Relations

Note: This is a short handout I made for my students that I thought was useful for a general audience.

International relations is about conflict and cooperation. After reading a news article on world events, you should be able to express in a stylized prisoner's dilemma like the one below whether the actors are in conflict or are cooperating. Over time, you should also be able to offer explanations for why these actors are in conflict or cooperation from each of the three perspectives and from each level of analysis. Doing this requires practice, which you can do by following 5 simple steps while reading an article.

Step 1: Identify the major actors.

Step 2: Identify the major actors' goals or interests. What is it they each want to achieve? Are their goals the same or different?

Step 3: Determine what the payoffs for the actors' interaction will be for each of the four possible outcomes (CC, CD, DC, or DD).

Step 4: Determine which of the four outcomes has happened or will happen. Are the actors cooperating (CC) or are the actors in conflict (CD, DC or DD)?

Step 5: Provide an explanation why this outcome occurred from the realist perspective. How does the liberal perspective explain the same outcome? What about the identity perspective? Don't forget that there are three levels of analysis — the systemic, the domestic, and the individual.


The following example is based on the article "Why Russia is against Kosovo plan" from the June 28, 2007 edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

Step 1: The major actors in this story are the United States (A) (or "the West") and Russia (B).

Step 2: The United States wants security for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who are threatened if Kosovo remains part of Serbia. Russia wants to avoid setting a precedent that will encourage other ethnic groups to demand independence, especially those inside Russia. Their goals are not the same.

Step 3:

Cooperate (B)
Defect (B)
Cooperate (A)
Kosovo is secured without having it set a precedent for other groups who want to be independent.
A: Kosovo remains a full part of Serbia.
B: Clear message that independence for ethnic minorities will not be tolerated.
Defect (A)
A: Independent, secure, and legitimate Kosovo.
B: Precedent allows other ethnic groups to seek independence.
A: Independent Kosovo lacks legitimacy.
B: Door left open for others to seek independence.

Step 4: The actors are not cooperating. They are in conflict. The United States has already declared its intention to move ahead with Kosovo's independence, which is a defection. Russia seems poised to defect as well by vetoing approval of Kosovo's independence by the U.N. Thus, the outcome is DD or conflict.

Step 5:

Systemic Level of Analysis
Buoyed by oil revenue, Russia is reasserting its authority in international relations to balance the power of the United States.
The current structure of the international system is based on nation-states, which results in the absence of any real alternative to independence for Kosovo.
Russia shares an Orthodox identity with Serbia and does not want to see it dismembered by Kosovo's independence.
Domestic Level of Analysis
Desire by domestic interests in the United States and other Western states to "finish the job" they started by bombing Kosovo and Serbia.
The Russian government's hold on power is based on appearing strong and appeasing Russian nationalists. This requires an aggressive stance towards the West.
Growing nationalism and authoritarianism in Russia have created a climate hostile to the West.
Individual Level of Analysis
Russian president Vladimir Putin is a weak leader who cannot use his position to prevent conflict.
Western leaders have failed to consider the concerns of Russia.
Putin's training as a KGB operative has lead him to view the West as an enemy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Poland returns to WWII

Poland seems willing to say anything to increase its power in the EU at Germany's expense. Now it's this: "Poland is challenging population-based voting rights in the EU by saying it would have more people if Germany hadn't slaughtered Poles." The BBC has a good summary of the issues facing the European Summit including the Poles' war of words. Der Spiegel has good coverage of the row including the German reaction here and here. Finally, the Center for European Reform has some good advice on what you do with a problem like Poland.